I was sixteen going on seventeen, I just joined a movement that aims to overthrow the Government. . . .
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The indigenous Igorot tribes are one of, if not, the hardiest people living in the islands ‘still named after King Philip II of Spain’ (as one of my friends insists to call it). The Igorot’s harsh and tough environment undoubtedly shaped their hardy constitution. There was rarely anyone who did not work very hard. For how could they not? In order to have sustenance, the Igorots have to till the rugged, arid mountains they fondly call their home.
Apart from his preserved rich but dynamic pre-colonial culture, the rugged, chilly mountains is all the Igorot got. Even so, within the given constraints of his exacting environment, he learned to adapt and make the best use of his lot. The Igorot forebear, with just his bare hands and a few rudimentary tools, painstakingly carved the steep mountains into a masterful engineering monument of rice and vegetable terraces. With foresight, he knew that the rice terraces, the forests, the clear streams and rivers, are enough to nourish and sustain many more generations of his descendants – for lifetimes after lifetimes. And indeed, in spite of his landlocked and austere location, a contrast to the sunny, wide, and fertile plains of the lowlands, the formidable, cloud-hidden mountains never failed to yield everything necessary for his survival. The Igorot thus survived, and thrived.
For many hundreds of years, the various Igorot tribes did not need or expect much from the Government. After all, they have always provided for themselves. They built functional irrigation systems and colossal rice terraces without a centralized authority ordering or commanding them. They built without the use of forced labor or slavery. Each tribe was self-subsistent, and aware, that it existed long before there was a Government. . . .
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I was sixteen, newly arrived in the city – “to do college”. I was very lucky. A year before that, Mother told me that I could not do college – because we have no money. Father had just died, where would she get the money to send me to college?
But I was lucky. Unexpectedly lucky. . . I got a scholarship, from the Government!
When I arrived to the city, I knew nothing of the city and the people in the city. So I obeyed everything my elders told me to do – to be a good girl, basically. They put me in a convent dormitory for girls. There, they said, the convent nuns would make sure that I prayed, and followed the rules.
In the dormitory, a roommate looked down on me, for being a mountain girl, an Igorot, and for being poor.
But in campus, I met new good friends. Exuberant, free-spirited, intelligent friends. They told me that we – The People – whether we hail from the lowlands or the highlands, are poor, because of the Government. That no matter how hard we work, even if we work to our deaths, we will remain poor and wretched because of the Government, and its accomplices.
“But we are scholars of the Government!” I told my new friends, aghast at their plans to overthrow the Government. My friends then told me to listen, very carefully, as they tell me the ‘truth’. That the truth is, it is our right to be given education by the Government. To where do The People’s taxes go, but to be rightfully spent for The People’s free access to education, as well as for the provision of other basic needs for all the citizens of the State?
My friends then showed me facts, statistics, the well researched and well analyzed data regarding the Government’s spendings and transactions. They told me about the Government’s unjust deals and crooked laws and agreements with other nations’ governments, business entities, and the big banks. One of these, which directly disadvantaged my people, was the standing Mining Act that gave mining companies the freedom to devastate tribal lands, allowing 100% foreign control and ownership of these lands, and these companies having the right to displace and resettle people – all this without having to consult the indigenous inhabitants of the land.
My friends’ arguments about overthrowing the Government sounded all too logical. They believed that we – The People – have put the Government in its place. So when it fails in its responsibility and breaks its ‘Social Contract’ with The People, we have all the right to bring down the Government.
I thought of my father. I thought of my mother. I thought of all the people who would be unceremoniously displaced to clear the way for Government-Business projects that would only essentially benefit the few. I thought of the mountains and rice terraces crumbling once the mountains are excavated. I thought of the fresh streams and rivers, polluted. I thought of the dense forests and their animal inhabitants, wiped out.
I could then, clearly, and reasonably see why the Government must, indeed, be overthrown.
My friends claimed that our problem is structural: that the problem of our country, and of the world at large, is embedded in the prevailing economic and political structure. And that our goal is to crush this oppressive and unjust structure and replace it with an alternative.
I was sixteen, going on seventeen; together with others who were more or less of the same age as me, we were fearless, we were dangerous, we were adventurous, we were idealistic – we were ready to face Death – to offer our young lives, for what we believed was a just and noble cause.